First quantum computer to be demoed next week

— 1:32 PM on February 9, 2007

A company called D-Wave Systems plans to demonstrate the world's first quantum computer next week, according to EE Times. Nicknamed Orion, the system will be based on a "supercooled, superconducting niobium chip housing an array of 16 qubits [quantum bits]." Unlike quantum encryption or communication systems, Orion will be an actual quantum computer. It will reportedly be able to perform nondeterministic polynomial-complete problems in just a few cycles, compared to thousands of cycles for conventional computers.

Nondeterministic polynomial (NP) problems are the most difficult to solve on conventional computers because each variable adds yet another dimension to its possible solutions. Each must be calculated and compared to find an optimal solution. Consequently, conventional computers almost never achieve completely optimal results, but rather use approximation techniques to save computer time. . . . Quantum computers, on the other hand, can evaluate all possible solutions simultaneously and find the optimal solution, often in just a few clock cycles, thereby not only vastly speeding up the time taken to find the solution but also finding the most optimal result.

The Orion processor solves these problems by loading its parameters into its 16 superconducting qubits, or quantum bits called thermally assisted adiabatic quantum computers (TAQCs). Each qubit can simultaneously take on all possible values for each parameter, and thus can more quickly perform the necessary comparisons and find the closest solution.

NP-complete problems include database searches, pattern-matching, drug discovery, disease identification, and finding matches for genetic material. D-Wave Systems doesn't plan to sell quantum computers to organizations that need to solve such problems just yet, though. Instead, EE Times says the company intends to start off by leasing time on the computer over a secure Internet connection.
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